E. Charlton Fortune (1885-1969) Untitled (Monterey) 26 x 34in overall: 33 1/2 x 41 1/2in (Painted circa late 1920s)

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Lot 37
E. Charlton Fortune
Untitled (Monterey) 26 x 34in overall: 33 1/2 x 41 1/2in

Sold for US$ 787,500 inc. premium
E. Charlton Fortune (1885-1969)
Untitled (Monterey)
signed 'Charlton Fortune' (lower left)
oil on canvas
26 x 34in
overall: 33 1/2 x 41 1/2in
Painted circa late 1920s


  • Provenance
    Private collection, Long Island, New York.

    E. Charlton Fortune's strong personality and progressive spirit are certainly manifest in her work. She called herself the "Girl from Hurricane Gulch," referencing the canyon in Sausalito (just across the bay from San Francisco) where she was born, though she went on to paint internationally. She started out in San Francisco, training at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, and then furthered her studies at the Art Students League in New York. She would ultimately spend many of her active years painting in and around Monterey, California, where she would maintain a home, and, in the 1920s, in St. Ives, England, and St. Tropez, France. In the fall of 1928, she painted the altar and then designed other furnishings for St. Angela Merici church in Pacific Grove, leading her to pursue the design of furnishings for Catholic churches nationally. Until 1934, she continued to balance the design of altars, altarpieces, metalwork, needlework, and statuary with her easel painting, after which she concentrated primarily on work for the church.

    As a painter, Fortune was and is best known for colorful landscapes featuring architecture, figures, and elements of modern life. Strong in color, these works are rugged and gestural in execution, with Fortune's paint applied with a "flying brush." 1 Though frequently labeled an Impressionist, the artist moved beyond the style to become, as J. Nilsen Laurvik of The American Magazine of Art described, a leader in the "modernist movement." 2

    Fortune often chose her iconography for its conduciveness to her aesthetic approach, as well as for the interest her subjects could lend to the surface of the painting itself. In California, it was her colorful scenes of and around Monterey Bay that proved most iconic, and she began to paint these in earnest in the summer of 1914. Her exhibition at Schussler Brothers galleries in San Francisco that fall included several such depictions and was well-received; reviewer Michael Williams wrote, "You have of course seen heaps of Monterey Bay pictures, and pier pictures galore—but you've rarely seen such fresh, strong, simple interpretations of the romantic charm and deep color of Monterey Bay as these." 3

    Positive press encouraged Fortune's explorations in this direction, and she would increasingly make use of elevated perspectives, creating a new series of sweeping views of Monterey Bay from high vantage points that shimmer with mosaic-like patterns. The paintings were daring by California standards—not only in terms of their color and paint handling but in their depiction of contemporary buildings, boats, and sometimes commerce. "Like Armin Hansen," Laura Bride Powers wrote for the Oakland Tribune, "Miss Fortune paints Monterey—Monterey in sunshine, Monterey in fog, Monterey hillsides, Monterey waters that are betimes the bluest in the world. Lover of all that is wrapt round Monterey of physical beauty, there she is at the highest pitch of her imagination and creative power. No wonder she lives there most of the year." 4 Looking across Monterey Bay and the town's buildings toward Mount Toro, Fortune balances the vitality of colorful chimneys, roofs, and doors against the natural beauty of the terrain. The view truly seemed made for painting, as period sources describe: "If you glance back as you reach the top of the hill on your first trip from Monterey to Carmel, you will exclaim in delight at the panorama spread out below. The sun glistens on the red and green roofs of the little white houses of Monterey . . . a flock of colorful fishing boats lie on the dimpling blue waters of the bay . . . a white, foam-fringed beach stretches in a long crescent to lose itself at the foot of the mysterious Santa Lucia Hills." 5

    Though Fortune would make this scene her signature subject in the late 1910s, she returned to the area after her extended forays in St. Ives and St. Tropez. Generally, the paintings that she made while based in Monterey in the late 1920s and early 1930s concentrated less on brushwork for its own sake than on a broader, simpler massing of forms, the approach reflecting the fact that artists in California—Northern California especially—had largely moved beyond Impressionism and Post-Impressionism toward more modern styles. Her new approach is reflected in this untitled Monterey view, though the subject is consistent with earlier paintings. Now, however, Fortune's color is softer than before, and she has moved in closer to maximize the almost Cubist massing of the buildings, her forms with an increased solidity and weight manifesting the renewed influence of artist Paul Cézanne, whose work she had long admired.

    The town itself had also changed, and while many of the same houses and buildings reappear, there is also evidence of Monterey's recent development. Paintings from the late 1910s included an open stretch of green leading to El Estero, the lake at right, but here the grassy strip is completely occupied by buildings, which had been rapidly erected between Del Monte Avenue and East Franklin Street in the intervening decade. 6 The growth was largely due to the fact that Monterey had since become the sardine fishing capital of the world—the size of the catch having increased from five-million pounds in 1915 to 175 million pounds in 1927—necessitating the construction of new buildings. 7 Fortune further differentiated her view by including the new Municipal Wharf, which was completed in 1927, the year she returned from abroad. Shown jutting into the center of Monterey Bay, and including the warehouse at its end, it provides further evidence that this is a new conception of Fortune's most iconic subject. 8

    1 Florence Wieben Lehre, "Artists and Their Work," Oakland Tribune, November 20, 1927.
    2 J. Nilsen Laurvik, "Art in California: The San Francisco Art Association's Annual Exhibition." The American Magazine of Art 9 (May 1918): 277.
    3 M. W. [Michael Williams], "Rising Artist Displays Work," November 25, 1914.
    4 Laura Bride Powers, "Art and Artists: Miss Fortune to Exhibit Next Month," Oakland Tribune, December 19, 1920.
    5 Daisy F. Bostick and Dorothea Castelhun, Carmel—at Work and Play (Carmel, CA: Seven Arts, 1925), 101.
    6 Thank you to historians Mike Dawson and Dennis Copeland for helping date the construction of these buildings and wharf.
    7 W. L. [William Launce] Scofield, "Sardine Fishing Methods at Monterey, California," Division of Fish and Game of California Fish Bulletin 19 (March 1929): 10.
    8 Thank you to Scott A. Shields, Ph.D. for his assistance with this essay and historians Mike Dawson and Dennis Copeland for helping date Monterey's buildings and wharf.
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